Mark Weber is retiring as executive director of the Eden Prairie Foundation on June 30.
For over 40 years, Mark has been active both professionally and personally in Eden Prairie, first as a reporter for the Eden Prairie News, then as its editor, publisher and general manager of its owner, Southwest Newspapers, before entering his current role with the Foundation in 2013.
Mark and I met up in the Eden Prairie Historical Society offices recently to look back at his time in our community.
The Eden Prairie News was Eden Prairie’s official newspaper, and its longest-serving reporter and editor was Mark Weber. With the exception of a one-year hiatus with another local newspaper, Mark was with the EP News from 1979 until leaving for the Foundation in 2013. During that time, he became Eden Prairie’s best-known chronicler and storyteller.
Mark’s roots go back to Detroit Lakes, Minn., where he grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and discovered his calling for journalism.
During his middle school years, he recalls going door to door (part-time) delivering the daily editions of the local newspapers. When not in school (Detroit Lakes High, the “Lakers,” class of ‘73), he could be found hanging out in the Detroit Lakes Tribune’s offices in town. In our conversation, he recalled happy memories of living only a few blocks from “the Lake” (Detroit Lake) and regularly doing deep dives not only in that lake but also deep dives into both local newspapers – the Tribune and the Becker County Record.
Mark recalls that the Watergate scandal, which broke during his senior year of high school, led him to discover his calling as a professional journalist.
After high school, Mark went on to four years at Bemidji State University (formerly known as Bemidji State College), earning his degree in journalism. While there, it was all journalism for Mark. No sports or other outside activities. If he wasn’t in class, he was helping get the school’s newspaper out and moonlighting part-time at the local Bemidji Pioneer newspaper.
Two years out of college, Mark became a cub reporter with the Eden Prairie News in 1979. He was recruited by Stan Rolfsrud, the manager of the paper then. For 25 years, Mark worked under Stan’s wing, learning his craft and about the people and events in Eden Prairie. Mark’s career grew in lockstep with Eden Prairie’s growth. In addition to the guidance he received from Stan, Mark also credits Dick Dahl, the editor of the EP News in 1979, as another of his mentors.
I asked Mark what made him want to stick with Eden Prairie and the EP News for so long.
Besides being the town where he and his wife, Roma, would raise their two sons, it was also Mark’s opportunity to witness the growth of this community and come to know the leaders in Eden Prairie who made things happen.
Mark had a front-row seat as one multi-million dollar development after another came before the City Council. Eden Prairie was one of the fastest-growing communities in the Twin Cities in the 1980s and 1990s. He witnessed the meticulous planning by city and school district staff, ensuring that new projects met the highest standards, resulting in the dynamic community we enjoy today.
One of Mark’s favorite stories about his time as a young reporter concerned the Minneapolis Aquatennial balloon races, which started near the Eden Prairie Center mall. In one race, he managed to hitch a ride with one of the contestants.
Another story involved spring flooding on the Minnesota River near the Sever Peterson farmstead. When it flooded, one of Sever’s pastimes was to take family members water skiing behind his tractor, moving at top speed along the shore!
In recent years, the rising tide of the internet and social media resulted in the falling tide of print newspapers, especially local ones. Eden Prairie News was not exempt from this trend. The prospect of being marooned was not for Mark, so he began to seek out his next act. He found that next act as executive director of the Eden Prairie Foundation.
The Eden Prairie Foundation is a non-profit 501c3 philanthropy whose mission is to foster and “improve the quality of life” (from the mission statement) for all community members.
Under Mark’s leadership, the Foundation’s assets grew from just under $400,000 to nearly $2 million in 2022. It capitalized on the rising popularity of donor-advised funds for Eden Prairie families and businesses wanting to give back to the community. In addition, it has provided fiscal sponsorship and leadership to many small organizations needing the Foundation’s non-profit status trying to do “big things” in the areas of unemployment, affordable housing, education, arts and culture, recreation, and the environment.
Mark pointed to one success known as “The Miracle Field.” It came together when local baseball youth and their families teamed up with the Foundation to raise funds and build a baseball field that could accommodate baseball athletes with disabilities. Using the Foundation’s non-profit status and administrative capacity, the families successfully made their vision a reality.
Asked about Eden Prairie’s future, Mark reflected on how it has evolved from a “shiny and new” community to one that is well established, mature and more diverse. To him, Eden Prairie’s challenge, as well as its opportunity, is to tap into its diverse communities, capitalizing on their knowledge, experience and viewpoints to enrich the community, culturally and economically.
Asked about his future, Mark said he sees many possibilities and is excited about them. Besides more travel and volunteering, he’s especially looking forward to becoming a grandparent in the very near future.
Finally, Mark commented on why people need to tell their stories.
“Because everyone has a story to tell,” he said. “And my job was to be there and help them tell it the way it needed to be told.”
You can see Mark’s full interview by going to the Eden Prairie Historical Society’s Facebook page, Eden Prairie Remembers.
Editor’s Note: Writer Greg Olson is a volunteer with the Eden Prairie Historical Society, researching and writing about people and events from the past that provide perspective on our present lives in Eden Prairie.
He’s been a resident and active participant in Eden Prairie for over 30 years. Most notably, he’s a former school board member with Eden Prairie Schools and served on various city commissions.
Mark Weber is on the EPLN board of directors and a regular contributor to the website.
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